A Canadian man caught at a border crossing with 51 turtles taped to his body pleaded guilty Tuesday to smuggling or attempting to smuggle more than 1,000 of the reptiles out of southeastern Michigan. Kai Xu, 27, would order turtles online, travel to the US to pick them up, and then ship them to China or bring them back to Canada. He pleaded guilty to six crimes in federal court in Ann Arbor and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. It's illegal to export wildlife from the US without a permit from the government. Xu "regularly deals in turtle shipments worth $30,000, $80,000, or $125,000," Assistant US Attorney Sara Woodward said in a court filing. "In China, the turtles he smuggles are worth two to three times the amount he pays here."
Xu has been in custody since his arrest in September 2014. Weeks before his arrest, he was under surveillance in Detroit. After picking up a box at a UPS site, he hid behind trucks and emerged with "irregularly shaped bulges" under his sweatpants, per a wildlife agent. Xu returned to Ontario but was stopped by Canadian border authorities, who found 51 live turtles in plastic taped to his legs, including box turtles and terrapins. Despite the bust, "he did not cease smuggling turtles. He did not even slow down," Woodward said. (Another smuggler was caught at LAX with 450 pork tamales.)